Mercury is considered a hazardous waste. When products containing mercury are placed in the trash, the mercury doesn't disappear, it finds its way into the environment. That's why mercury-containing products cannot be disposed of with regular trash or poured down the drain. Mercury products and compounds must be recycled or managed as a hazardous waste. Households have a low to no-cost method to properly handle mercury products at the end of their useful life. Towns and solid waste districts hold hazardous waste collection events every year. Households and small businesses can contact their local municipality or solid waste district for more information and collection event scheduling.
Instructions for the Safe Disposal of Mercury Products
Two product categories, bulbs and thermostats, have free manufacturer-funded recycling programs:
Other mercury-containing products do not have manufacturer-supported recycling, but must still be disposed of properly:
Mercury-Containing Product Waste Handling and Storage Guidelines
for Commercial/Institutional Facilities
- All employees who handle or manage mercury-added products shall be informed of proper handling and emergency procedures.
- Store mercury added products (fabricated products) in a designated area which is separate from solid waste disposal. (fabricated products do not include elemental mercury or mercury compounds)
- Signs must be posted on the storage area that are clearly visible.
- Properly identify mercury-added products by labeling each collection container with, "(Waste) or (Used) or (Universal Waste) Mercury-Containing products."
- Store containers for no more than one year.
- Broken mercury-added devices must be managed as a hazardous waste. At a minimum, the device, the released mercury and cleanup debris should be sealed in a plastic bag and transferred to a closed compatible container labeled "Hazardous Waste" (with a description of the contents).
- Do not crush mercury-added lamps. Lamps should be stored in ways that avoid breakage as crushing releases mercury vapors that may pose health and environmental risks. Broken lamps are hazardous waste.
- Mercury-added lamps should be placed in packaging functionally equivalent to that used to ship new lamps. (Lamp recyclers can provide adequate containers for collection).
- Seal full packages with tape (Do not tape lamps together). Label packages with wording such as "Waste (or Used) Mercury-Containing Lamps(s)" or "Universal Waste Mercury-Containing Lamps"
- Store packages of lamps no more than five (5) feet high.
When mercury is spilled, it evaporates and gives off hazardous vapors that are invisible and odorless.
If you spill mercury or break a product that contains mercury, it is important that it be cleaned up immediately.
See the following environmental fact sheets:
For large mercury spills, contact the (24 hour) Spills Hotline at 800-641-5005.